Mostly clear

Former Santa Rosa officials fined for golf freebies

The state political watchdog agency Thursday fined two recently retired Santa Rosa parks and recreation department officials for accepting thousands of dollars in free golf rounds, lessons and merchandise discounts from the operator of the city-owned Bennett Valley Golf Club.

As expected, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission voted 4-0 to approve a $6,500 fine for former department director Marc Richardson and a $3,000 fine for former parks development manager Rich Hovden.

Both men had struck settlement agreements with the agency. Neither appeared at the hearing, but afterward Richardson issued a written statement.

"I apologize for what happened," Richardson wrote. "I didn't realize the trouble my actions caused at the time and should have; however, looking back I can see the violations and accept responsibility."

Richardson retired in December after 27 years with the city. Hovden retired in February after 41 years with the city. Their departures followed an investigation by City Manager Kathy Millison prompted by an anonymous letter pointing out that Richardson golfed at the course nearly every Saturday and never appeared to pay.

"If this is true, it just doesn't seem right, since he must have a pretty good salary with the City, and the rest of us, who are probably not as fortunate, always have to pay, and have seen the fees go up a lot lately," states the letter, signed only by "Golfer."

The city hired a private investigator, whose report confirmed that Richardson and Hovden had been accepting the free course access and other gifts for years from course operator Bob Borowicz.

The city asserts the entire report is a secret document, citing an exemption to the state's public record act for "personnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

Both men repaid Borowicz in December and retired shortly thereafter. Richardson repaid $5,324, and Hovden repaid $4,479.

Since neither had disclosed the gifts as required on state financial disclosure forms, both were required to file amendments listing all the gifts. City Clerk Terri Griffin alerted the FPPC's enforcement division to the potential violations. The amended filings formed the basis of the FPPC's charges.

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